Dear Friends in Jesus Christ,
A warm welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
The Catholic Bishops gathered for the Second Vatican Council described the Church using many images – amongst them: A Mystery, A Sacrament, the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Church as Communion, the Fulfillment of Israel and more besides.
After considering scriptural and patristic various images and ways of speaking about the Church in scriptural terms, Lumen Gentium offers us all a concise, but rich summary of the nature of the Church:
“This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, handed on to Peter to shepherd, committed to him and the other apostles to extend and rule, and erected for ever as “the pillar and ground of the truth”. This Church constituted and ordered in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although outside its structure, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found, which as gifts proper to the Church of Christ, impel towards catholic unity.” (LG 19)
My own favourite image (not excluding any of the others) is that essentially we are the baptised pilgrim People of God, and thus the Body of Christ; head and members united by the Holy Spirit in visible communion with the successors of the Apostles, united with the Pope as successor to Peter. Such unity forged in bonds of charity and communion in the Church is a precious – sometimes fragile – gift of the Lord to His Church – be cherished, protected and shared.
As Bishop of Lancaster and thus as a Successor of the Apostles, I am charged, in accord with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with a special care in my ministry as ‘overseer’ to uphold the unity of the Church in this Diocese of Lancaster and so to guard against any attempt to confuse the faithful regarding authentic Catholic teaching and ministry in this Diocese.
In this light there appears at times a momentum for certain pressure groups in the life of the Church Universal. Amongst these at the present moment is a small but vocal interest or lobby group self-styled A Call to Action (ACTA) which happens to meet within the Diocese of Lancaster and other dioceses and appears to espouse positions – at times and among others – in opposition to the defined teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals.
This last week this group unexpectedly approached BBC Radio Lancashire to obtain some media attention (for fairness – the link of an interview is provided here: 01:09:10 – 01:16:00)
I need to make it clear here that in my judgement, as Diocesan Bishop, ACTA moves well beyond its self-described aim of ‘dialogue’ on controversial issues on its agenda and so does not provide an assured authentic forum or interpretation of sound Catholic teaching and sound pastoral practice in this Diocese. Accordingly great care is required here from priests and people.
Furthermore, although individual Catholics are quite entitled to meet and express themselves and certainly discussion within perimeters can be important and valuable, I have a duty at the same time to clarify for the faithful the status of such groups: This particular pressure group has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lancaster nor has it ever requested, as other groups do, as a matter of courtesy, formal ecclesial recognition from me.*
Much more than that I want to be clear that the Diocese of Lancaster wishes to commend and embrace all authentic efforts at Church renewal, collaboration and engagement in the mission of the Church via the usual consultative structures and expressions of our communion in the Church i.e. Parish Pastoral Councils, Deanery Pastoral Councils, The Council of Priests, The Bishop’s Council etc following the untiring and inspiring lead of our Holy Father Pope Francis and the great popes before him towards the need for proper co-responsibility for the Church of Christ.
It is worth noting that in the course of visiting our 92 parishes and 85 schools and colleges I make a special point of meeting with the respective – and often elected – parish pastoral councils during the ‘quality time’ Parish Visitations as an integral part of the listening, learning and discerning dimension of my ministry as Shepherd of Lancaster. We chat, share and listen to one another.
Besides, I meet with and engage with hundreds of people in the Church of various ages and backgrounds in any given month through this important work as you will often read about here on The Bishop’s Blog and in the pages of our diocesan newspaper ‘The Catholic Voice’. My homilies and statements, together with other Catholic news are accessible for all on the Latest News section of our popular and well-known diocesan website: www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk
Those of you who know me personally or follow my blog know only too well the guiding principles my episcopal ministry – the major one being that ‘we all belong together’ in the Church and that the Call to Communion and Charity is stronger than anything than can threaten to divide us.
As I meet with the People of God in the Diocese and also with ecumenical friends I try to recognise the Lord busy at work in their stories from family, work, involvement in Church and within the wider community.
At the very core of my ministry as Bishop is the overriding desire to gently affirm, prompt and encourage all our priests, deacons, religious and dedicated lay people in the task of Evangelisation that is ‘new in its ardour, methods and expressions’, whose purpose is to make intentional disciples of the Lord, in His Body the Church.
Just now, I am also working hard to develop the ‘feminine genius’ in the Church with the development of our Office for the New Evangelisation led by a young religious sister and the arrival of more active women religious communities in the Diocese over the next 12 months.
Interestingly, as you know from previous posts here we are also working hard to follow the call of Pope Francis to ‘reach out to the peripheries’ so as to include in our ranks of priests, communities and people those Catholics from overseas and from other rites. Again, I was interviewed on these developments by BBC Radio Lancashire here – 02:47:48 – 02:50:40.
On another level completely I marvel at how so many of our priests and parishioners quietly work acts of mercy for those on the margins – these will never make media headlines but are still a powerful witness to the charity of Christ. As a Diocese we are certainly trying our best to walk humbly with our God and engage with and live out the Joy of the Gospel!
As we enter into the trial and triumph of Holy Week, I would ask us all to continue to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that everyone in the Diocese may embrace an authentic renewal in faith and moral development, and shun those efforts which would threaten to damage our communion in Christ, to exploit our vulnerabilities and demean the power of God’s grace of forgiveness at work quietly among us.
Meanwhile, let us give thanks to God for his grace in making us members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded by Christ. May we cherish always the gift of communion with the See of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, and do our part to build up the Body of Christ.
Until next week – may God bless you all,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster
N.B. *Unfortunately, this group, has not – despite several requests – shown a willingness towards transparency and openness in terms of its own disclosure of local membership, and minutes of local meetings and, in fact, continues to restrict access to large areas of its national website to ‘members only’. Such a willingness would surely be a first step towards a genuine and respectful process prior to dialogue.